THE LAST HOLIDAY is an updated remake of the 1950 film of the same name that boasted a screenplay by J.B. Priestly and Alec Guiness in the starring role. Naturally, one approaches the remake with trepidation. And yet, in a move as cleverly rendered as the original film, the filmmakers have made a few changes, but kept the spirit of the original intact.
The George Byrd of the original is now Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) and it’s Georgia’s shoes that say it all: plain, sensible and slightly worn but still perfectly serviceable. The feet on which they reside belong to a quiet and unassuming sales associate whose days are spent in the housewares section of Kragen’s department store in New Orleans where she secretly pines for Sean (LL Cool J). Her nights are spent following along with Emeril on television as she whips up gourmet meals that she feeds to the neighbor kid while she herself chows down low-calorie frozen dinners that she picks up from the corner store on the way home. She has big plans, all of them catalogued in an album that she has lovingly created, and where they have all gone to ground because Georgia is just too sensible to do any of them. At least until a crush-related head injury (Sean had been talking to her) results in a CAT scan and a dire diagnosis. Never mind the disease, Georgia’s got three weeks to live and so that’s exactly what she does. She incisively tells off her condescending, cell-phone addicted boss, and books a trip to the Czech Republic in order spend Christmas and New Year’s (hence the title) dining on the cuisine of Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu), whom she idolizes, and pampering herself in five-star luxury hotel where he works because, as she has found out the hard way, there is literally no time like the present.
Unjaded, delighted with her surroundings, and hungry for everything that she’s missed out on until then, she charms the staff there at the Hotel Pupp (pronounced less like the canine and more like what it deposits). And that’s the secret of the film. It charms the audience the way Georgia charms the staff and everyone else she comes in contact with. Except, of course Kragen (Tim Hutton doing a credible job of being the film’s weasel), the eponymous owner of, among many other things, the establishment where she used to work, who is there with a woman not his wife (Alicia Witt). He can’t quite figure out what her angle is, the which he assumes that she has because he always does. That she doesn’t is outside his paradigm. She is exactly what she seems to be, out for a good time and unafraid of anything, be it base jumping or butter.
There are a great many coincidences in this film, and a story line that doesn’t really surprise so much as confirm audience expectations. It doesn’t matter. The Queen is a star with her screen presence, and a credible thespian making Georgia sweet but not a patsy. When she tells someone off, and she gets the chance several times, it’s done without prevarication, but there is the undeniable sense that she is doing them a favor by pointing out their failings, and what’s more, that they are the better off for having heard it. The supporting cast measures up, with Witt, as Ms Burns, Kragen’s feckless mistress coming up with more than the one-joke character a less-skilled actress would have made her, and Gerard Depardieu as the gently cranky, sublimely eccentric chef who finds a kindred spirit in Georgia, all but swooning into his blood-orange relish over her.
LAST HOLIDAY is a slight film, sometimes droll, sometimes whimsical, and usually sharp. Yet this sweet little film can barely bring itself to utter a profanity (one, spoken twice), or dwell on what it is exactly that Ms Burns has been doing to cause such a pain in her neck. Get past the Food Network tie-in, it’s mostly painless, pack a lunch, the loving, lingering shots of haute cuisine will pique quite an appetite, and surrender to the charm.